Once upon a time, airports were not something the average person would ever get to experience.
Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s never flown. Airports have become bustling centers that lure you in and keep you there.
On the way to your terminal, you stop to get a cup of coffee, pick up a magazine, maybe even enjoy a quick massage – it’s almost like the airport knew exactly what you wanted!
Well, actually, they do. Every innocuous detail of the airport environment has been orchestrated by experts to create an experience that gets you excited, spending money, and coming back for more.
From the lighting to the layout, here are 10 ways the airport guides your behavior.
1. You’re guided where to go
Nothing is more frustrating than getting lost on your way to your gate for a flight that takes off in 30 minutes.
“Wayfinding,” a term used by design experts, is how airports guide you through the airport safely and in the right direction without you ever knowing you’re just a rat being led to the cheese.
Stanis Smith, executive vice president and leader of the airports sector at consulting firm, Stantec, tells Mental Floss:
“I tell my staff that signage is an admission of failure. Obviously one needs signs, but the best thing for designers to do is look for ways you can assist with wayfinding that are subtle.”
2. Subliminal messages are not scarce
Humans are great at making visual associations. We often link a symbol, pattern, or even font type with a known company. We can see the logo for our favorite store or fast food chain from a mile away.
Airports are no different.
David Zweig, author of ‘Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion,’ says, “Very, very little in the style of an airport sign is arbitrary.”
If you get the feeling you’re lost, it’s probably not by accident. As Zweig alludes, you’re likely picking up on “subconscious cues” strategically placed by the airport’s design team.
3. The light lures you in
People are attracted to natural light. That’s why many airports have their shops facing the big open windows overlooking the tarmac.
Julian Lukaszewicz, lecturer in aviation management at Buckinghamshire New University, tells Mental Floss even more:
“There’s a trend that the shops face the tarmac. Passengers tend to walk more into shops that have direct access to the sunlight. If they’re closed off with artificial light passengers feel they are too dark and avoid them.”
4. Art isn’t just something to look at
While big sculptures and prominent artwork make airports more culturally appealing, that’s not their only purpose.
“We like to use things like artwork as kind of placemakers that create points of reference through an airport terminal,” giving people a “point of orientation,” says Stanis Smith
And we are likely to see much more of these pricey “points of orientation” in the near future as one survey found that 56% of participants tie their experience to seeing them.
5. Lay out the red carpet
Well, it may not be red, but airports like to use carpet at the gate’s waiting area to give you that homey experience.
But making travelers feel more relaxed isn’t just for our pleasure – they want us to relax our pockets as well.
Mental Floss reports that, “happy, relaxed travelers spend 7% more money on average on retail and 10% more on Duty Free items.”
6. Idle time is capitalized
The “golden hour” in airport lingo is that first hour after you’ve cleared security and you’re likely in the mood to get a little something for yourself before your flight.
According to the Telegraph, this is when “passengers are at a loose end and most likely to spend.”
Signs around the airport let you know how far the walk is to your gate – or in other words, how long you’ll have to shop, grab a drink, or get your shoes shined!
7. They keep you there longer than needed
While one hour to spend some money is okay, it may not get those penny-pinchers opening their wallets.
So now airports are trying to extend that “golden hour” into two “golden hours” by getting you through security faster.
“One hour more at an airport is around $7 more spent per passenger,” says Lukaszewicz.
Automated check-ins, streamlined waiting areas, and e-tickets are all designed to ease the check-in process – getting you to the retail shops and restaurants faster!
8. Every store is purposely placed
It’s hard to resist a bag of chocolates or your favorite tabloid when it’s staring you right in the face—and you got a whole hour to kill.
Airport spending is often impulsive, and when you’re forced to look at all those goods, spending is inevitable.
Consulting company, Intervistas, says that duty-free shops with “serpentine walk-throughs” (where you’re forced to twist and turn to get through the shop), have 60% more sales.
Why? Because 100% of the people have to walk through the shop the way it was designed.
9. Souvenirs are geared toward the locale
People like to boast about where they’ve been – even if it’s just a small airport in Ohio.
So, much of the merchandise sold at an airport will have the name of the state, the state’s sport team, or something famous the state is known for advertised on its paraphernalia.
Senior design principal at HOK, Ripley Rasmus, says, “Local brands, local services, reinforce this idea of place, and that you are in a special place on your way to the rest of the world.”
Nobody knows this better than New York City, where even a traveler passing through the airport for a connecting flight will want to get ahold of some claim.
10. Single-file everyone
While waiting in the long, winding lines to get through security, you may wonder why more lanes don’t open up.
Well, just as everything else at the airport, they have a reason for that too.
One single line gives travelers a sense that all is fair in the world, thus lowering stress levels, according to Lukaszewicz.
People will always complain that the line next to them is moving quicker even when, in reality, it is not.
Single-file alleviates that comparison.
So now that these airport secrets are exposed, you’ll be more aware of the tactics used to lure you into spending money.
But hey, maybe you’re one of the many people who don’t mind dishing out a little extra to stay comfortable and feel pampered—in which case, enjoy that cup of coffee and have safe travels!